Vivek Ramaswamy speaking at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum (Jeremy Hogan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Vivek Ra­maswamy is run­ning an an­ti-“woke,” an­ti-Chi­na pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. It's a con­trast to his time as CEO

WOLFEBORO, NH — Biotech en­tre­pre­neur Vivek Ra­maswamy is run­ning for pres­i­dent as an an­ti-ESG and Chi­na hawk, two themes he’s de­ployed ear­ly and of­ten dur­ing his fledg­ling cam­paign to win over Re­pub­li­can pri­ma­ry vot­ers.

But his po­si­tions as a can­di­date dif­fer, some­times sub­stan­tial­ly, from his stances just a few years ago, when he was CEO of the biotech com­pa­ny Roivant Sci­ences — a ca­reer that has con­tributed to the per­son­al wealth he’s us­ing to bankroll his cam­paign.

Cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca’s fo­cus on en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­cial and gov­ern­men­tal­ly pro­gres­sive busi­ness prac­tices has been the sub­ject of par­tic­u­lar ire for Ra­maswamy, 37. He’s de­scribed it as “woke” an­ti-cap­i­tal­ism that has made cor­po­ra­tions in­to un­of­fi­cial pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

ESG is a “mech­a­nism for the gov­ern­ment to ef­fec­tive­ly dep­u­tize some of its tasks to be done through the back door, less trans­par­ent­ly, what it couldn’t get done through the front door — be it on the cli­mate change agen­da, be it on racial eq­ui­ty agen­das,” Ra­maswamy told End­points News af­ter a town hall cam­paign event in New Hamp­shire last month. “And I think that’s fun­da­men­tal­ly wrong.”

But just three years pri­or, in 2020, Ra­maswamy backed Roivant’s launch of an ESG in­vest­ment arm.

Dubbed Roivant So­cial Ven­tures, or RSV, the fund aims to “gen­er­ate sub­stan­tial so­cial re­turns and rein­vest fi­nan­cial re­turns to dri­ve long-term im­pact,” ac­cord­ing to its web­site. Among its stat­ed goals are in­creas­ing di­ver­si­ty in clin­i­cal tri­als, in­vest­ing in and in­cu­bat­ing ear­ly-stage biotechs to bring new drugs to un­der­served pa­tient groups, and cre­at­ing more di­ver­si­ty, eq­ui­ty and in­clu­sion op­por­tu­ni­ties for bio­phar­ma lead­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the CEO of Roivant So­cial Ven­tures, Lind­say An­dros­ki, Ra­maswamy gave the go-ahead for the or­ga­ni­za­tion, and OK’ed its ini­tial fund­ing.

“Vivek is the per­son I ini­tial­ly pitched Roivant So­cial Ven­tures to, he gave me the green light to launch and lead it (in­clud­ing seed fund­ing from Roivant), and he has al­ways been sup­port­ive of the Roivant So­cial Ven­tures phil­an­thropic mod­el,” An­dros­ki told End­points in an email in Feb­ru­ary.

Af­ter the New Hamp­shire event, Ra­maswamy down­played his role and said the fund launched af­ter he stepped down as CEO in Jan­u­ary 2021. He called it “an in­ter­est­ing con­cept” that could move ex­per­i­men­tal drugs for­ward through a non­prof­it if Roivant had al­ready done due dili­gence and didn’t have to pay for any ad­di­tion­al re­search. He said that’s where his in­ter­est end­ed.

“To tell you the truth, I couldn’t tell you to­day what Roivant So­cial Ven­tures does now,” Ra­maswamy said. “I don’t know when it was aligned with that [ESG] mis­sion.”

Roivant So­cial Ven­tures’ web­site lists its launch as 2020, the year be­fore Ra­maswamy stepped down as CEO, and the or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fi­cial­ly be­came a 501(c)3 that year, ac­cord­ing to a let­ter from the IRS. In a fol­low-up email, An­dros­ki al­so said she spoke to Ra­maswamy in “mid-2020.”

“We specif­i­cal­ly spoke about the egre­gious hos­pi­tal­iza­tion/death rates for Covid for Black and brown pop­u­la­tions (which were all over the news at that time),” An­dros­ki wrote, “and how we should al­low Roivant em­ploy­ees to en­gage in mean­ing­ful so­cial projects us­ing their pro­fes­sion­al ex­per­tise that can help im­prove ac­cess and out­comes for un­der­served groups.”

The fund had pre­vi­ous­ly been known as the Roivant Foun­da­tion, which Ra­maswamy said “orig­i­nal­ly had a dif­fer­ent pur­pose.”

Vivek Ra­maswamy shakes hands with a guest dur­ing a cam­paign stop in Man­ches­ter, NH (Charles Kru­pa/AP Im­ages)

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

In New Hamp­shire, Ra­maswamy spoke to a ca­pac­i­ty crowd of about 80 at a Ma­son­ic lodge in the small town of Wolfeboro, about 45 min­utes north­east of Con­cord. Cam­paign staffers hand­ed out t-shirts and bumper mag­nets, and at­ten­dees ate a buf­fet din­ner be­fore Ra­maswamy ar­rived. Once the town hall got un­der­way, they pep­pered him with ques­tions on top­ics rang­ing from Ukraine to the role of God in so­ci­ety.

Ra­maswamy said that if he were pres­i­dent to­day, he wouldn’t give Ukraine “an­oth­er dol­lar.” As a for­mer phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ex­ec­u­tive, he said “we can have some bar­room de­bates” about whether iver­mectin is an ef­fec­tive Covid treat­ment. He took shots at en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, call­ing them a “cli­mate cult” who are or­ches­trat­ing a “hoax.” And when asked about the 2020 elec­tion and the false claims that it was stolen, Ra­maswamy said Re­pub­li­cans would have to win 2024 in a land­slide to en­sure De­mo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty “shenani­gans” don’t come in­to play.

One top­ic that came up fre­quent­ly was Chi­na, which Ra­maswamy calls his top for­eign pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ty. He has said he would pro­tect Tai­wan by arm­ing every house­hold there with an AR-15 ri­fle, and that the US should be “will­ing to bar” com­pa­nies from do­ing busi­ness with the coun­try.

But as CEO, he steered his com­pa­ny in­to do­ing more, not less, busi­ness in Chi­na.

In 2017, he found­ed Shang­hai-head­quar­tered Sino­vant, with the goal of “bring­ing in­no­v­a­tive med­i­cines to Chi­na and ad­vanc­ing Chi­nese bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­no­va­tion abroad,” ac­cord­ing to a Roivant press re­lease. He for­mal­ly un­veiled the com­pa­ny in Ju­ly 2018 with three drug pro­grams and re­cruit­ed a team of Chi­nese re­searchers to spear­head its ef­forts.

Sino­vant’s fi­nan­cial part­ner on the deal was Citic Pri­vate Eq­ui­ty, or CITIC PE, a sub­sidiary of the Chi­nese state-owned con­glom­er­ate Citic Group. Launched in 1979 dur­ing the lead­er­ship of Deng Xi­aop­ing, Citic Group was Chi­na’s biggest state-run com­pa­ny as of 2019 and owns and in­vests in banks, air­lines and new tech­nolo­gies.

Citic PE did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

End­points at­tempt­ed to ask Ra­maswamy about Sino­vant at the cam­paign event, af­ter trav­el­ing to New Hamp­shire at the cam­paign’s in­vi­ta­tion for an in­ter­view. But that con­ver­sa­tion last­ed just a few min­utes, and the cam­paign didn’t re­spond to mul­ti­ple fol­low-up emails seek­ing com­ment.

An­oth­er Roivant sub­sidiary lo­cat­ed in Hong Kong, Cy­to­vant, fo­cused on cell ther­a­pies for Chi­na and oth­er Asia-Pa­cif­ic na­tions. Both sub­sidiaries, or “Vants” as they were billed, are no longer in op­er­a­tion af­ter Roivant shut them down in 2021.

“Roivant is not cur­rent­ly ac­tive in Chi­na; Sino­vant and Cy­to­vant nev­er gen­er­at­ed sales or prof­its and are no longer op­er­at­ing,” a com­pa­ny spokesper­son, Stephanie Lee, wrote in an email. Sum­it­o­mo Dainip­pon ac­quired Sino­vant’s as­sets the same year for an undis­closed sum.

Ra­maswamy at the US-Chi­na Bio­phar­ma In­no­va­tion & In­vest­ment Sum­mit in Shang­hai in 2018 (End­points News, Pharm­Cube)

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Ra­maswamy’s brash style is noth­ing new. He has long had dis­dain for the drug in­dus­try, and found­ed Roivant in part to prove that there was an­oth­er, more ef­fi­cient way of bring­ing new prod­ucts to mar­ket and mak­ing a prof­it.

A few months in­to his cam­paign, Ra­maswamy’s next big bet is on him­self. Of the rough­ly $11.4 mil­lion his cam­paign re­port­ed rais­ing to the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion since de­clar­ing in Feb­ru­ary, $10.25 mil­lion came from Ra­maswamy as a per­son­al loan, and he’s re­ceived just $850,000 in con­tri­bu­tions from in­di­vid­u­als oth­er than him­self. He is polling be­tween 1% and 2% in most Re­pub­li­can pri­ma­ry polls and re­cent­ly lost the Twit­ter en­dorse­ment of bil­lion­aire ac­tivist in­vestor Bill Ack­man.

At least six cur­rent and for­mer biotech and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ex­ec­u­tives have do­nat­ed to his cam­paign, with con­tri­bu­tions rang­ing from $500 to $6,600.

Some of their rea­sons were po­lit­i­cal, and some gave be­cause of per­son­al re­la­tion­ships with Ra­maswamy. Four of the six ei­ther work at, or used to work at, a Roivant sub­sidiary.

Michael Triplett, CEO of pri­vate gene ther­a­py start­up Ar­ma­tus Bio, do­nat­ed $6,600 and told End­points Ra­maswamy brings a “new in­tel­lec­tu­al en­er­gy” to the po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. Sandeep Kulka­rni, CEO of Tour­ma­line Bio and for­mer COO of Im­muno­vant, do­nat­ed $1,001 and said while he doesn’t agree with all of his pol­i­tics, he thinks Ra­maswamy is “an as­set to the lev­el of dis­course on the right.” Ben­jamin Zim­mer, the CEO of Pri­o­vant, al­so do­nat­ed $1,000 and said Ra­maswamy is a “high-char­ac­ter per­son who I think would be an ex­cel­lent pres­i­dent.”

Oth­ers were less ea­ger to dive in­to the po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. Pa­van Cheru­vu, Ra­maswamy’s for­mer chief of staff who served as Ax­o­vant CEO from 2018 on­ward fol­low­ing its Alzheimer’s fail­ure, do­nat­ed $3,300 and said he made the do­na­tion to “sup­port Vivek as a friend.”

“But I’d pre­fer not to com­ment on po­lit­i­cal mat­ters,” he added.

Kyle LaHu­cik con­tributed re­port­ing.